Monday, September 14, 2009

Noel Sickles: Condensed in '62

Recently I found another volume of Readers Digest Condensed Books, this one from 1962, at a local thrift shop. One thin quarter (25 cents) is all it cost me for this astounding book, packed from front to back with eye-popping artwork by some of the greatest illustrators of the 20th century.

Last week someone commented that he thought Noel Sickles was influenced (at least for a while) by Francis Marshall's technique in how he executed his illustrations for RDCB. If so, this group of illustrations might be the proof. The timing seems right, at least according to what we've seen so far of both Marshall's and Sickles' work for RDCB. Notice how many of these pieces look as though Sickles sketched them (maybe directly in black marker?) on location.

If you're a long-time reader of this blog you may remember seeing smaller versions of these pieces in my Noel Sickles Flickr set a couple of years ago. This one below I have always found particularly remarkable for its powerful, experimental graphic quality. Is this Sickles attempting to remain relevant in a time when illustration was being replaced by photography in most print media?

In regard to the waning of illustration during the early 60's, it must have been a relief for many of these artists that at least there was Reader's Digest to fall back on. The company seems to have relentlessly commissioned illustrations by the truck-load.

One thing I think you're going to find very interesting this week is how one single volume of RDCB contained such a wide variety of art styles. The casual observer might paint the illustration styles of the mid-20th century with the the broad brush of "the retro look". Nothing could be further from the truth, as we'll see.

Tomorrow: Something completely different!

* My Noel Sickles Flickr set.


  1. excellent!

    and yes, i thought there was a link between some of those marshall pieces and sickles' RDC book work, too

  2. great stuff again,leif....i don't believe i have these in my i found the readers digest on amazon and ordered it...brian...

  3. Chad Sterling3:29 PM

    Sickles was something of a stylistic chameleon and I definitely see an FM look in the figure poses of the dancing illustration and the crowd scenes in the later pictures.I think there's also enough of Sickles in these not to label them 'derivative' but 'influenced by'.Thanks for posting these Leif and so nice to see a Brit be received so warmly by your readership.